There was a mild drama laced with political intrigues yesterday, as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on New Media, Mrs Lauretta Onochie, denied her membership of the All Progressives Congress (APC), stating that she ceased being a member of the ruling party after the 2019 general elections.
Onochie made the denial when she appeared before the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which screened her and five others as part of the process of the confirmation of their appointments as National Commissioners of INEC. The nomination of the 62-year-old woman had generated a lot of controversy particularly from the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and civil society organisations.
The main plank of the protest against her nomination were her open identity as a member of the APC and her apparent partisan posture towards national issues as reflected in her engagements on the social media. Onochie, who entered the screening room at exactly 13:43 pm, was drilled by members of the Senate Committee on INEC for a record one hour.
Some of the lawmakers came prepared to confront her with the petitions and were bent on establishing her capacity to be impartial and neutral if cleared to take up the job at the election management body. In her presentation, Onochie said she was eminently qualified for the job and said the series of petitions and objections to her nomination were borne out of sentiments.
She said the petitions must have emanated from persons who do not like her stand for due process and constitutionality. The controversial nominee, who admitted that she worked with the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) and the APC before her appointment as an aide to the President, said she terminated her membership of those political organisations after the 2019 general elections.
“Since 2019, I have never had anything to do with any political organisation in this country. Even the Buhari Support Organisation, I have not had anything to do with them since 2019. “So when APC decided to do a proper registration of their members and to revalidate their membership, I did not take part in that exercise. So, as I am sitting down here, I am not a member of any political party in this country.
“Like I said, from 2019, after the President was reelected for the second term, my duty in politics was ended. I stopped engaging in political activities,” she said. There was more drama as her interrogation on her loyalty or sympathy to the ruling party polarised the committee with members of the APC pushing for Onochie to be put on oath to restate her denial and lay the matter to rest. Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Kabiru Gaya (APC/Kano), was at the verge of administering the oath when Sen. Seriake (PDP/Bayelsa) Dickson and Sen. Ike Ekweremadu (PDP/Enugu)raised objections to the move.
They insisted there was no need to put Onochie on oath because she was not under trial and her denial would be further examined when the committee sits to review the screening exercise and make recommendations to the plenary. Other nominees screened by the committee yesterday included Professor Muhammad Sani Kallah( North West ), Professor Kunle Ajayi (South West), and Saidu Babura Ahmad (North West), Professor Sani Muhammad Adam (North-Central) and Dr. Baba Bila (North East). But in its formal reaction to Onochie appearance before the Senate committee, PDP insisted that she was still a member of the ruling party. PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan stated that Onochie is number 2 on the ward 4 register of the APC in Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State. The party also noted her subsisting oath filed in a pending suit in court affirming her membership of the APC: “Which she further reinforced and adopted under cross examination in the same matter very recently.”